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Six signs of a high performing school

There have been many attempts to define what the characteristics of high performing schools might be. Indeed, I have met, and read, many who profess to know just what makes such a school. Of course, I have developed my own thoughts on this, based on my own experiences. Some of these will concur with the thoughts of others, and some will be different. I am sure you will have your own thoughts and ideas. As usual, I share these not to say they are absolute and right, but more to stimulate your own thinking, after all we all work in education and you would think we would be able to identify either what we are doing already or what we aspire to do to make our schools the best they can be for all our learners.

My top six.

1) You can tell a high performing school as soon as you walk through the doors. Not by what is going on in the classrooms, important though that is and more of it later. No, I am talking about something a bit more ethereal, the atmosphere. How do you feel when you walk in the school? Does it feel welcoming? Do the first people you meet make you feel welcome and important? Do they smile? Are they comfortable with you? Your first contacts as you enter a school tell you much about the ethos and culture of that school. I have been to many where they have wonderful displays as you enter, they have the school values and aims on display, they have displays or HD monitors telling you what is happening and sharing successes. But, still something is missing, and that is that warmth you feel when in an all encompassing culture and community. You can't fake this, and falseness is fairly easy to detect quickly. A school's reputation in the local community and amongst visitors can be the first indicator of high performance.

2) High performing schools see pupils holistically and have learning and teaching as core business. This seems obvious, but I am sure we have all been in schools where you get the impression that the focus is very narrow, probably attainment in certain curricular areas, and they are most focused on command and control structures so that the organisation is as functional as possible. The best schools maintain a focus on learning and teaching, and how they can improve their understandings and their practice in these areas. They make the connections between all developments explicit and understand how these link to core business.

3) High performing schools are collegiate and collaborative, and this is based around shared values. All staff share and plan together. They understand the shared vision and the plan for getting there. There are no silos of individual practice, they visit each other's classroom regularly to observe learning, and will then take part in focused professional dialogue about this. They talk about learning and teaching a lot, formally and informally. They collaborate internally and externally across schools. They build partnerships with those that can support learners, including parents and other agencies, and value these.They understand their responsibilities for all learners.

4) There is strong leadership in all areas of high performing schools. Leadership is dispersed throughout staff and this is facilitated by a culture based on support and trust. People are encouraged and supported to lead and to innovate. Everyone understands how they can contribute to the leadership of the school, and will step forward to do so. Leadership is not about one person or about titles. Hierarchies are flattened and the power of relationships is utilised to achieve more.

5) In high performing schools career-long professional development is understood and embraced by all. Senior leaders not only support professional development they are active participants in this. Teachers enquire into their practice as an ongoing disposition and share insights across the school, and beyond. They use research critically to inform change and resist fads and trends, and have given up the search for 'silver bullets.' Everyone sees themselves as life-long learners and they model the behaviours and attitudes they look to foster in learners.

6) In high performing schools everything is measured in terms of improved outcomes and impact for all learners. They plan changes to improve outcomes for pupils and are ruthless towards dispensing with activities that have no positive impacts. They have robust self-evaluation processes embedded into all they do, so they know exactly where they are and what their impact is. They are good at saying no and protecting themselves and their learners the agendas of others which might deflect them from their core business and planned activities.

Of course there are other aspects found in high performing schools, but I would argue that the above need to be present so that others can have the greatest impact. You might want to consider your own key characteristics of high performing schools, and of your own.


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